By Scott Powers
January 29, 2022
The bill ‘attempts to strike a balance between property rights and local control.’
A House bill representing the annual attempt to regulate vacation rental homes at the state level and preempt local controls cleared its first committee of the 2022 Legislative Session Thursday.
The bill (HB 325) from Republican Rep. Jason Fischer of Jacksonville got through the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee on a 10-6 vote.
The discussion and debate showed how the idea continues to draw strong opinions over whether local control of the burgeoning vacation rental home business is imperative or potentially overdone. Thursday’s hearing also showed continued legislative progress toward satisfying concerns, or at least closing gaps, with new language and amendments.
“I think it has moved in the right direction. Every committee stop, every year, we’ve made changes — even this year compared to last year,” Fischer said.
HB 325 would preempt local licensing to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but allow local governments to at least set up a registration program. The bill would also require advertising platforms such as Airbnb and Expedia to provide license and registration information in a vacation rental listing, to collect and remit sales, merchant business and tourist taxes, and to adopt an anti-discrimination policy.
It also would strip away local regulations, except those that predate 2011. That would leave the vacation rental business, for the most part, uniformly regulated and enforced only at the state level.
“This vacation rentals legislation attempts to strike a balance between property rights and local control,” Fischer said.
For several years now, Fischer has sponsored the House version of the vacation rental preemption bill while Democratic Rep. Dan Daley of Sunrise has led the opposition. All the previous bills eventually died. That rivalry played out again Thursday at the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, of which Daley is a member. It even fostered some teasing, as Fischer quipped he would name the bill the “Dan Daley Act of 2022” if it gets approved.
Daley contended the current situation — with a wide array of local ordinances regulating vacation rentals as cities see fit for their own situations — “seems to be working.”
Among his concerns was that if enforcement is shifted from cities or counties to the state, the state might not have the ability to police vacation rentals scattered throughout the state, and might only do inspections in response to complaints, rather than proactively.
Daley also raised the annual concerns over a “proliferation of party houses” and of massive numbers of Florida residential properties being purchased by hedge funds and other out-of-state investors and converted into vacation rentals.
“I think this is on a whole other level that we’re starting to see,” Daley said.
Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani of Orlando expanded on that, saying that the spree of investors transforming rental properties into vacation rental homes is exacerbating Florida’s affordable housing shortage.
One amendment tacked on Thursday might have created more animosity with local-control advocates. The amendment would create a 30-day grace period for unregistered vacation rentals to register without paying fines. The bill would also eliminate any prospect that cities could charge fees for local registrations, unless they already have fees on the books when the bill goes into effect.
“Unlicensed activity is the biggest problem with vacation rentals right now,” said Tara Taggart, lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities. “I don’t see how this would incentivize vacation rental owners to come into compliance, if they have 30 days (after getting caught) to come into compliance.”
Republican Sen. Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills has the companion bill (SB 512).